Conflicting Discourses in Language Teacher Education: Reclaiming Voice in the Struggle

By Austin, Theresa | Educational Foundations, Summer-Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Conflicting Discourses in Language Teacher Education: Reclaiming Voice in the Struggle


Austin, Theresa, Educational Foundations


Denying the complex, contradictory "hard-to-code" voices makes trouble for creating borders around conclusive arguments. Fine sensitively warns feminist researchers in the social sciences not to romanticize voices but to pay critical attention to what voices we hear and how we hear them. (Jackson, 2003, 5)

The warning that Jackson provides is a particularly somber one for any teacher educator concerned about both valuing what teachers bring to the field as well as opening up space to hear and work with "difficult subjects" for teachers (Florio-Ruane, 2001; Gebhard, 2003; Torres-Guzman, 1996; Willett, 2007). The current historical context is one in which many of our teaching candidates, again largely women, are eagerly entering into their first teaching positions. According to the national study conducted by Cochran-Smith & Fries (2005), the majority of teacher candidates in the U.S. are White middle-class women. While those from the U.S. who become TESOL teachers are also primarily White middle-class women, given the global demand for English, there is also a sizable number of TESOL teachers from international backgrounds (Braine, 1999; Lurda, 2005). As the current population entering our profession of language-teacher education is now beginning to differ from those in the past because of this international component, this seems to be a particularly significant moment for us to examine what discourses are currently operational that influence the direction and substance of teacher education programs where this notion of "civic culture voice" is encouraged.

With this aim, I use my own experiences as a multilingual teacher educator of dual racial heritage to illustrate how the contemporary period has produced three areas of contradiction and tensions through widely held beliefs about community of practice, Black feminist perspectives, and intersections of oppression. These concepts emanate from feminist, Womanist, critical-race, and post-structural perspectives. While these concepts at times may be problematic, they are nevertheless directly relevant to current discourses circulating in the professional development of teachers and can contribute to enriching our understanding of diverse voices in teacher education.

As a teacher educator and researcher from Massachusetts, I conduct seminars and courses in a bilingual and ESL teacher education program. In this article I would like to suggest examining the teacher educators' "voice" will contribute to open up dialogue about how discourses in teacher education need to be continuously scrutinized for the manner in which they produce teacher- knowledge and instill instructional practices (Hargraves, 1996). Aligned with narrative study, I draw on my own life experiences in TESOL as a multilingual, multiracial, language teacher educator (1) to illustrate several lessons learned.

Feminist scholarship and poststructuralist theories have increasingly contributed to teacher education in the last 20 years and are becoming central to the theoretical underpinnings of the practice of educating teachers, a field that has historically attracted and continues to attract primarily women. Poststructuralism has provided varied approaches to examine the tensions and contradictions in teacher education (Cherryholmes, 1994; Miron & St. John, 2003; Raths & McAninch, 1999). Tensions arise when competing ideologies are present in the lives of teachers yet can be productive dialectically in creating new understandings and envisioning options for praxis. For Bakhtin (1981), struggles are an integral part of developing new understandings: "The importance of struggling with another's discourse, its influence in the history of an individual's coming to ideological consciousness, is enormous" (p. 348). Feminist theories offer grounding for challenging institutional and disciplinary power that perpetuate inequities. Through research they propose a praxis that changes the "maldistribution to help create a more equal world" (Lather, 1986;258). …

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